Sgt. 1st Class Michael Barbera, who faced murder and other charges in connection with the 2007 shooting deaths of two unarmed, deaf Iraqi boys, is expected to plead guilty to a lone charge of communicating a threat under terms of a deal.
Barbera was the leader of a Small Kill Team on reconnaissance for terrorists when he fatally shot Ahmed Khalid al-Timmimi, 15, and his brother, Abbas, 14, on March 6, 2007, squad members testified. The two boys were tending to cattle outside As Sadah village, Iraq, about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad and just a few miles from a forward operating base of the 5-73rd Cavalry in Diyala province.
Details of the shootings were published in December 2012 by the Tribune-Review in a special investigative report, “Rules of Engagement.”
The Army charged Barbera with two counts of premeditated murder. He also was charged with two counts of prejudicial conduct for allegedly lying to superiors about the shootings and for allegedly threatening the wife of Trib investigative reporter Carl Prine, who wrote the national award-winning report.
The threat charge involves one of several calls Barbera allegedly made to Prine’s home. A male caller told Prine’s wife, Deanna, that her husband was working on a story about something that happened in Iraq in 2007.
“For your personal safety, I suggest you tell him he needs to stop working on this story,” she testified the male caller told her. The call was later traced to Barbera’s cellphone and matched a contact number he posted on Google for an event.
Under the plea agreement, Barbera is expected to face less than a year in prison. The judge also likely would reduce Barbera at least one rank to his previous staff sergeant status, military justice experts say.
Lt. Col. Charles Floyd, the investigating or hearing officer for Barbera’s Article 32 hearing in April at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, had recommended Barbera face a general court-martial. The charges: one count each of premeditated murder, non-premeditated murder, obstructing justice, and communicating a threat.
The Army announced in September that Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, commanding general of Army I Corps and the Lewis-McChord base and the convening authority for Barbera’s general court-martial, had decided to dismiss the two murder charges “without prejudice” — meaning prosecutors retain the right to refile them later. The dismissal was necessary, officials said, because the unstable situation in Iraq with Islamic State militants makes it impossible at this time for prosecutors and Barbera’s defense team, led by attorney David Coombs, to get to As Sadah village to speak directly with relatives and other villagers about the deaths of the two brothers.
Witnesses from Barbera’s unit testified that after his older brother was shot to death, Abbas raised his hands before he, too, was shot by Barbera. The unpremeditated murder charge recommended in Ahmed’s death reflected Floyd’s belief that Barbera allegedly fired quickly and in response to something the squad leader did or did not see, such as a suicide vest. Abbas’ death was premeditated and deliberate, Floyd concluded.
Barbera was referred by Lanza to general court-martial on the remaining obstruction and threat charges. Coombs and Army prosecutors subsequently negotiated a plea agreement that drops the obstruction charge. An Army spokesman did not respond Friday to a request for comment.
Jim Wilhelm is investigative editor for Trib Total Media. Contact him at 412-320-7894 or [email protected]